The IRB Pacific Rugby Cup 2009 kicks off this weekend with three mouth-watering encounters, including an all-Fijian affair in Sigatoka and a repeat of last year’s final between Tautahi Gold and Upolu Samoa in the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa.
The key development competition, now entering its fourth year, features two representative sides from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga and is played on a round robin basis with the top two sides then meeting again in the Grand Final.
Savai’i Samoa and Upolu Samoa had lifted the silverware in the first two years, but Tautahi Gold finally broke the Samoan stranglehold last year, the Tongans going from bottom of the standings in 2007 to beating Upolu 11-3 in the final with national captain Nili Latu one of their standout players.
The 2009 competition promises to be just as competitive and with a twist as the Fiji Barbarians side is actually Fiji’s Under 20 side, who are using the Pacific Rugby Cup, and the chance it provides to play against older and stronger players, to build up to the IRB Junior World Championship in Japan from 5-21 June.
Fiji Barbarians will be led by full back Kiniviliame Murimurivalu as they take on Fiji Warriors in the opening match on Friday, the same day that 2006 winners Savai’i Samoa will be looking to avenge a 14-13 loss to Tau’uta Reds at Apia Park. The repeat of the 2008 final between Tautahi Gold and Upolu Samoa takes place at Teufaiva Stadium on Saturday.
Will Glenwright, the IRB’s Regional General Manager for Oceania, for one is predicting another year of twists and turns with a bit of the Pacific Islands flair thrown into the mix.
“It is going to be a very interesting tournament actually,” Glenwright told Total Rugby recently. “Obviously the unique feature of it is the Pacific Island flair, they play without doubt – and it is known around the world – a very attractive style of rugby and it is certainly on display in the Pacific Rugby Cup.
“There will be some interesting bylines and stories to this year’s tournament because as we know Fiji and Samoa [expected to be the Oceania qualifier] have drawn themselves in the same pool in Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand.
Growing in stature year on year
“It is going to be very interesting to see how the Fijian and Samoan teams in the lead up to the Pacific Nations Cup face off against each other and how those Unions prepare their respective players for the tournament ahead, because many of the players in this year’s Pacific Rugby Cup will go on to represent their country at Rugby World Cup 2011. So that is going to be a very exciting element to the tournament as well.
The value of the competition to all three of the participating Unions is evident with the player pathway that now exists between local rugby and the national teams, as highlighted by the fact that 47 players progressed from the last year’s Pacific Rugby Cup to play for their respective countries in the IRB Pacific Nations Cup.
“It [PRC] has definitely grown in stature and has become one of the key rugby events, never mind one of key sporting events on the Pacific Island calendar,” continued Glenwright. “We are getting great crowd numbers, the media interest is intense and most importantly the standard of rugby is really improving and so it is a great product.
“It has grown on quite a few levels, obviously crowd numbers are a great indicator of the popularity of the tournament and we have certainly seen the crowds increase from relatively small numbers in the beginning of the tournament when it was a largely unknown product with unknown teams of unknown players.
“But what has happened over the three years is that the rugby public have become more familiar with the players, many of the Pacific Rugby Cup players have gone on to represent the national team and to contracts overseas and in Europe and Akapusi Qera of Fiji is a classic example. He is a product of the Pacific Rugby Cup and shows the potential of the tournament and the public and the media are responding to that.
“We are seeing much larger crowds, we have now got media travelling with the teams when they hit the road for the away games during the tournament, media exposure has always been high but it continues to grow and it takes up a lot of columns in the print media and also a lot of exposure in the electronic media.
“Then of course the standard of rugby has improved, we are seeing a lot more of players from the Pacific Rugby Cup going on to gain representation on the national teams during the Pacific Nations Cup and the November Test series and many of those players are going on to obtain contracts in Europe and Japan, so as a rugby product it is really growing and it is certainly meeting its objectives.
Clear player pathway
“This is the core function of the tournament, because whilst it is great to have a tournament that is attractive to sponsors and spectators and the media, what is most important is that this tournament provides a pathway for locally based players to prepare themselves for international competition.
“The IRB is spending a lot of money on high performance initiatives and licensed training centres within each of these three countries and this is an end product of that high performance investment, this is the opportunity for the best of those players to cut their teeth in an international high level elite competition and prepare themselves for Test rugby.
“We had 47 players progress last year from the Pacific Rugby Cup into the Pacific Nations Cup – 18 players from Tonga, 14 from Fiji and 15 from Samoa – so certainly there is a genuine player pathway there that is starting to emerge.
“But it is not just the players, it is also all aspects of the tournament, we run extensive judicial training for judicial officers and citing commissioners and judicial liaison officers and the benefit of that training is also starting to emerge.
“We are seeing the local competitions and the national provincial competitions introduce disciplinary programmes that previously didn’t exist before this tournament, so we are seeing more and more aspects of elite competitions filtering down into the national competitions.
“On the third level is match officials, now we have through the Pacific Rugby Cup a pathway for referees and touch judges to expose themselves to the rigours of an elite international competition and James Bolabiu of Fiji is a classic example again, he cut his teeth in the Pacific Rugby Cup.
“It is not just the players that are benefiting from this, but it is all facets of the rugby machine.”
Fiji Barbarians v Fiji Warriors - Lawaqa Park, Sigatoka - 24 April
FIJI BARBARIANS: 1. Leong Kwong 2. Josaia Cikaitoga 3. Manasa Saulo 4. Josese Bolabasaga 5. Penisoni Ledua 6. Aseri Baleitamana 7. Luke Nakobukobua 8. Lemeki Damu 9. Nikola Matawalu 10. Koroi Yavala 11. Ilaitia Leka 12. Tevita Raogo 13. Kolinio Vunaki 14. Simione Ravaga 15. Kini Murimurivalu (Captain).
Replacements: 16. Ifereimi Lalakolabasa 17. Penijamini Makutu 18. Jovesa Tanikorolevu 19. Sainivalati Takailagi 20. Henry Seniloli 21. Anare Vakawaletabua 22. Tevita Taga.
FIJI WARRIORS: 1. Alifoso Yalayalatabua (Captain) 2. Isireli Ledua 3. Sefetano Somoca 4. Ben Sadrugu 5. Apisalome Ratuniyarawa 6. Deryck Thomas 7. Isireli Ledua 8. Koresi Ledua 9. Aporosa Vata 10. Alipate Tani 11. Apisalome Waqatabu 12. Josefa Satini 13. Ropate Ratu 14. Isaia Nawaqa 15. Iliesa Keresoni.
Replacements:16. Viliame Veikoso 17. Viliame Seuseu 18. Rupeni Nasiga 19. Samuela Bola 20. Nemia Kenatale 21. Ravai Fatiaki 22. Isake Katonibau.
Savai'i Samoa v Tau'uta Reds - Apia Park, Apia - 24 April
SAVAI'I SAMOA: To be announced
TAU'UTA REDS: To be announced
Tautahi Gold v Upolu Samoa - Teufaiva Stadium, Nuku'alofa - 25 April
TAUTAHI GOLD: 1. Sione Maama 2. Va'inga Fangupo 3. Makoni Finau 4. Samiu Ika 5. Sione Aho 6. Paula Kata 7. Lisala Uasi 8. Josateki Veikune 9. Maamaloa Kuluka 10. Fangatapu Apikotoa 11. Mateo Malupo 12. Mahe Fangupo 13. Heimuli Pangai 14. Samisoni Hafoka 15. Sitaleki Lu'au.
Replacements: 16. Kameliele Sakalia 17. Taumata Vaikimo'unga 18. Sioeli Faupula 19. Petelo Pifeleti 20. Sione Niu 21. Maamaloa Tiueti 22. Silifou Sikulu.
UPOLU SAMOA: To be announced
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